Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not Every Cake Can Be Amazing

Despite the alluring picture of a cake topping this post, I am not writing about secrets to build amazing cakes. No, this post is about my failures. I was rereading through my old cooking posts (someone else please tell me you enjoy re-reading your own old posts - I do.) and noticed that in my introduction to Someone's in the Kitchen I mention that I'll share with you my cooking failures as well.

I have not lived up to this - unless you tried any of the recipes I posted about and you thought they were failures. If so, don't tell me, so I can remain in my ignorant state of feeling special. Not that frequent failures, or more usually "less than spectaculars" don't happen in my kitchen. Often I'll even prep pictures, and then the final product just isn't worth recommending. I've been working on learning how to make good layer cakes this last year. For the cake above it was a sponge cake with cream filling. Sponge cakes are dryer than the traditional American layer cake, so they recommend brushing a sugar/water glaze over the cakes to moisten them. I did that, but when we ate the cake, it was still very dry for American tastes.
Then the next day we had some more (those layer cakes sure make a lot of dessert!), and the sponge cakes had finally moistened up. I wish I knew how to transfer this to successful Sponge cake layers - I guess make and decorate the day before hand, and just choose durable frosting.

This was my birthday cake. I felt on a lemon kick, so made a recipe out of a cookbook that had lemon curd dropped into the batter before baking, a lemon curd filling, and a lemon icing. Avram thought it would be a little much. I didn't. Avram was right. Also, the icing never quite emulsified properly, and so although the flavor was right, the texture and spreading capabilities were off. You can tell how the frosting is bumpy in the photo. I had that same experience earlier this year. I've been attempting to move out of the traditional butter,cream (or milk) and powdered sugar frostings into the wide world of seven minute frosting, fluffy white frosting, Italian meringue buttercream frosting and the like. Mostly I've learned there's a reason for the ease of the powdered sugar buttercream frostings. I think once I perfect the methods, these other frostings will be better, but they definitely aren't the dump and mix type of dessert. The texture (when done right) and the flavor is better, and healthier (if this can be said of any frosting type) than the regular frosting. And the homemade simple buttercream is ten times better, in my opinion, than the cans of frosting from the store.

So if you really want to dress up a cake, make a box mix, and then fill and frost with homemade frosting. Making a homemade cake is also magnitudes harder than making a box cake. Except pound cakes, which are ridiculously easy. However, I think once I master them, they will be worth it - they can stand up to layering better, and have ultimately a better flavor from the butter instead of the oil. Also, for my birthday cake that I made I finally broke down and bought Soft White Wheat flour, found in grocery stores under the White Lily brand. This flour made all the difference in the tenderness of the crumb in the cake. I highly recommend buying some, and using it for any pastries, desserts, etc. that you make. In nicer cookbooks (ie, the ones with large pictures I get from the library), they will even specify for soft wheat flour, sometimes called pastry flour. EDIT - I actually meant to say cake flour, not pastry flour. Usually it's just called cake flour, but all cake flour is is soft wheat flour. See, that is how long it's been since I've read dessert cookbooks as a hobby.
This tart came with the strict instructions to buy the best chocolate you could afford, since chocolate was the main flavor. I used the generic bakers chocolate found in grocery stores everywhere, and the tart was kind of boring. I guess the book meant what it said. Quality of ingredients really does make a large difference in the finished product, which is why if you use margarine for daily use, I would still always, always bake with butter. Butter performs better, tastes better, and produces a better product. Always. (Except for pie crusts, which need shortening to be flaky).

None of these were flat failures - they still tasted good. I think less-than-exciting dishes happens in everyone's kitchens, whether they're erratic homemakers or professional chefs. Remember, though, that even though I'm still learning how to actually do really nice homemade cakes and frostings, that I've come a long way from my first homemade cake. Same thing with anyone and cooking. Even if you try recipes and they don't work, that doesn't mean you should give up and only ever buy Macaroni and Cheese and frozen pizzas. There is a definite learning curve in the kitchen, but you get to reap the benefits from learning every day, for the rest of your life. And if you're like me, and obsessed with learning how to make yummy, fancy desserts, your health gets to reap the benefits (?) of large doses of sugar as well.


Aaron, Julie, Joseph and Emery said...

There is some sound kitchen wisdom in this post. I've always wanted to try a homemade cake. I think for the next occasion, I will. I've done a few frostings, but nothing fancy. I certainly agree that a homemade buttercream is way better than store frosting. I have certainly been inspired to try something new. Here's to the learning curve!

Mary said...

I have made a few cakes from scratch and I realize that flour does make a diffrence. Using cake flour would make the texture of the cake better. I found that homemade cakes have a toughfer and dryer taste. When I make a cake next time I will buy cake flour. Also I want to buy bread flour so I can have better bread. First I have to finish of my 25 lbs of regular flour! :) Love you Bork and your cakes look yummy!

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Don Fallick said...

Finally got around to reading this blog. I probably won't become a member, as I don't spend much time in the kitchen, and, the type is hard for me to read. I can understand your love of cooking, even though I don't share it, but why anyone would use Courier New, when they don't have to, is beyond me!

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